How Waubonsee's Latinx Resource Center helps remove barriers to success
My father took me to "trabajar la piedra" -- work the stone -- for the first time under the burning hot, Ecuadorian sun. As the eldest, I felt happy and blessed to help my dad and the other stonecutters with the challenging task of drilling and shaping stones into beautiful figures and columns that adorn the cities' parks, squares, and gardens in Ecuador and abroad. We paved stones from black, volcanic rocks called Andesites, using only a chisel and hammer.
At first, I only made one paved stone a day, while my father made 100. The second day I improved, and I was able to make three pavers. Later, I could do 15 and sometimes up to 20, but I could never equal my father. I broke many cobblestones and smashed my hands while learning how to mold the shape of a paver. However, thanks to my work that summer, I was able to help my family financially; and, for the first time, buy my school supplies, shoes, and my uniforms.
I realize that life has not changed much for me since those days. As Waubonsee's Latinx Resource Center manager, I mold and shape young students into leaders with resources, knowledge, programs, and events. Waubonsee's new LRC helps students address common barriers from success to completion, including paying for college and balancing family, school, and immigration.
While I no longer hold a chisel and hammer in my hands, I often consider the profound parallelism in my work from then until now. Today, I work with my colleagues to help shape the future Waubonsee students, 30% of whom identify as Latinx. I am compelled to continue to create a more inclusive community of leaders who welcome, respect, and recognize the beauty and richness of the many perspectives, world views, and variety of life experiences that Latinx students bring to Waubonsee.
We all have the opportunity to be stonecutters. Who are you advocating for? What tools are you holding in your hands? How can you help a student in your life become the entrepreneur of their own future?
Life alone shapes us all differently, as you can tell by reading my story. Be an advocate for someone else who is different from you by taking the time to get proximate to their circumstances and situations in life. Remove labels and titles. Learn their story, person-to-person. Celebrate their culture and differences. And if you find out you don't know much about someone's culture or traditions, get curious about who they are and how you can use past life experience to help them shape their own.
Through Oct. 15, we will host several programs to educate and raise awareness about Latinx heritage. The Latinx Heritage Month events will honor the impact and influence that Latinx culture has had on American society. These events are open to community members and a great way to learn. After all, what you know may help someone else grow in the future.
I will never forget my grandfather's words as we left my town in Ecuador and waved goodbye from our old car in search of a better life: "Lo aprendido nunca se olvida, lo que te llevas de aquí te servirá para triunfar." What you have learned is never forgotten, what you take from here will help you (and others) succeed.
• Franklin Ortega-Palaguachi is the Latinx Resource Center manager at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.